Peru

You can thank my good friend Jet lag for this edition – like clockwork, i’m wide awake at midnight every night since being back in SA. I live like a vampire as a result, but instead of consuming blood, I consume packets of those little litchi and strawberry sweets from Tannie Woolies.

We’ve just returned from Peru where we spent 3 weeks exploring. The idea for the trip started about 4 years ago with myself and 2 buddies planning a simple Inca Trail getaway. The trip was put on ice for a few years as the beer in Munich was calling my name for Oktoberfest and my other mates thought it would be fun to chase sheep in Namibia.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2014 where Bianca and I met up over a pain-stakingly complex dinner I made that involved a phone call to the curry restaurant. Generally when there are 2 investment bankers in the same room, someone is losing money but in this case, Peru 2014 was finalised and the trip became real! So, on 20 September, Bianca, Bridget, Jon, Wilco, Henry, Jacques, Inge, Michael, Cheri and myself left OR Tambo to begin this super adventure. At this juncture, I’d like to draw reference to Cheri’s suitcase – it was so big that I continuously thought we were traveling with an 11th person 😉

First stop was Lima, Peru’s capital city. It’s rumored to be the most depressing city in the world due to a layer of mist that covers it for a substantial part of the year. It’s so depressing that the taxi drivers regularly try and kill themselves in the traffic. The trip from the airport to the hotel after 16 hours of flying was interesting. And when I say interesting, i mean terrifying. I would recommend that my taxi driver gets his seats cleaned after we disembarked his death trap but whom I kidding – i think the “shitting yourself” experience is included in the fare. My general state of severe OCD means I generally check the amount of tread the wheels of a taxi have before I get into it. After the first 2 taxi’s that had tyres similar to formula 1 vehicle slicks, I gave up looking at the tyres and took up praying.

Personally, Lima is an unremarkable city for me – it’s your typical big city with an interesting city centre. We spent a night there before really kicking off the trip down south in the towns of Arequipa and Puno where we spent 4 nights exploring the beautiful old cities, canyons with souring condors, Lake Titikaka and the Uros Islands. Peru has a really interesting history – if any of you are even slightly interested in the place, read up on it – it’s fascinating. Fortunately, we travelled with Henry who is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Peru. It’s just a pity he was always drunk so getting the information out of him was a bit tricky.

From Puno, we made our way to Cusco by train, but not just any train…. More like a country house they put wheels on and set it on a track. It was super- wood panelling, brass lamps, wingback chairs. The 10 hour train trip flew past as we were passing through the Andes. It even snowed midway through the trip- this was surreal.

Cusco is a super town. The Spanish, upon their arrival, demolished the ancient Incan ruins and built atop their foundations. Wherever you go you can still see the rock foundations in super condition. The highlight of Cusco for me was a free waking tour that ended at the Limbo bar. The way the bar works is they ask you to like them on  TripAdvisor. Upon doing so, you get a free drink. So naturally, all of us wrote glowing reviews of the Limbo Bar and the free drinks flowed. In my sober state, I wrote a glowing review for the bar- I used words like “fantastic”and “superb” and “remarkable”. Just a pity I wrote about a Limbo bar in New York! Still got the free drink 🙂 Then more drinks happened, and before you knew it, we had Afrikaans music playing in the middle of Peru and some really shocking singing and dancing commenced.

To give you an idea of what a big night it was, it turns out there was an earthquake in that area. A big one. Not one of us felt it (In my defence, I boiled the earthquake down to Wilco’s “encounter” with a glass coffee table and the subsequent, lets call it, “dive” across the dance floor 🙂

The Inca Trail: 

In essence, the Inca Trail starts by being picked up in Cusco at the crack of dawn and being driven through the Sacred Valley to our starting point. The trail itself consists of 4 days of walking and 3 nights of camping.

Day 1 saw us walking through foothill mountains and green valleys and was largely flat with the exception of one or 2 climbs, but nothing too intense. Our guide and his assistants managed to find us a decent camping spot where we had a few celebratory cold ones and an awesome meal. It turns out that our trekking agency employs a qualified chef, and a couple of the porters have the sole responsibility to carry our food – we certainly never had a shortage of food and that is despite the presence of Henry who can bulldoze his way through almost any quantity of food. In fact, if you want to know why Woolworths share price is doing so well, just go check out how much this oke buys from them! Jacques thanks you bud!

The real climbing started on day 2 where we started climbing pretty much from the outset, through ‘cloud forest’,  which effectively is young jungle, all very beautiful. We encountered a Japanese man on the one ascent who took great pleasure in informing all and sundry who passed that his wife had a terrible stomach bug and was currently having her 7th “episode” in the bush – he was almost proud to tell us this! 

Once we had passed through the cloud forest the second half of the climb began, up to Dead Woman’s Pass – the highest part of the climb at 4200m. It was a monster of a climb, especially at altitude where the path is narrow and continuously climbing. Finally at the top, Michael had to crack open his “emergency Snickers” for extra energy – what a champ! The view from the top is expansive and made the climb worthwhile. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and then the descent began. I hate downhills. Completely loath them to be honest; my faulty knees and junk food addiction mean that this body of mine are allergic to downhills. Thank goodness for elevators or I don’t know what I’d do with life in general. To add to this difficulty, there was an impending thunder storm on its way so we needed to get to camp asap. 

Something really cool happened whilst walking alone towards camp (we’d all split up at this stage depending on how fresh/tired we felt). In the distance you could see this wall of mist approaching from across the valley and you could see it getting closer and closer with speed. I almost felt anxious by it as it was thick and never ending. When it finally engulfed me it was completely surreal – you couldn’t see further than a few feet in front of yourself and at one point I thought I’d deviated from the path and was about to become the next episode of a CNN news bulletin. Thankfully this wasn’t the case! Eventually got to camp, soaking wet, climbed into my tent (which despite virtually lying on what felt like broken glass, was super comfortable all of a sudden) and passed out for a couple hours! 

Day three also started with a climb (which at that point I was getting gatvol of – no wonder it took hundreds of years for anyone to discover Machu Picchu – any self-respecting man would long since have said bugger this up and down bullshit and turned around). What made this day different from the rest is it started off cold! It was freezing for the first half. The second half was beautiful, however, as we passed through more Incan ruins (some of the best yet). We also got our first glimpse of Huaynapicchu (the mountain that stands behind Machu Picchu) – everything started feeling very real now as we were nearly there! 

Yet another decent from this point awaited us enroute to our last night of camping – this descent was a constant downward staircase of mismatched, ancient rock stairs that had been laid hundreds of years ago by the Incans. Time had taken its toll in the stairs, which are now covered in moss and slippery when wet (which they were). I lost count but I’m pretty sure there were 500 million stairs. They never ended! Poor Wilco was delirious at the end of the descent, poor chap thought he was back in Cape Town, I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was 15000 kms away! By the time we’d all arrived at camp, showered in sub-zero water and eaten, we were in bed before 8 – we were all completely poked!

Tomorrow would see us arriving at Machu Picchu- we can’t wait, just a final stretch through the Sun Gate and we will see one of the rarest sights on earth.

I have been battling to some up MP- obviously it’s great and remarkable and gobsmacking, but we all knew that already. There is something else that’s remarkable about it though- possibly it’s remoteness that only lead to its discovery 100s of years after it’s abandonment. I loved it.  Epic highlight to the Inca Trail. In fact, it is the remoteness which appeals to me- it’s brutally remote to have built, amazing accomplishment. 

 Best R100 beer of my life too- if this banking thing doesn’t work out, I’ll be selling beers at tour sites! 

We also summited Huaynapicchu whilst at MP. What a climb but views were so worth it! Passed the notorious stairs of death- they were fenced off, for obvious reasons. 

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Post MP we hit the local hot springs for a deserved soak and beers before the longest train trip back to Cuzco known to man. Hot springs were sublime but the long train trip to Cuzco damn near killed me. We even went backwards at one point as we were going so slowly. What self respecting train goes backwards?! When finally in Cuzco we had to walk from bus stop to hotel – I don’t why I don’t mind doing exercise if I’m paying sometime to inflict it on me but I effing hate doing it voluntarily. Like walking to a hotel. Who makes someone do that after finishing the Inca Trail!!

We crashed hard that night and needed to be at airport early for our flight to the Peruvian Amazon. 

Flight to Iquitos was remarkable flying over raw jungle. Our plane was more of a taxi because we stopped to pick up more passengers from a village en route. I felt like a bit like Allie Fox from the Mosquito Coast upon my arrival in Iquitos. But hell, it’s hot in the Amazon!! 

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I really like Iquitos and would go back in a heartbeat! So different from the rest of Peru but so nice and ‘jungly’. It’s hot. It’s muggy. It’s crazy and loud. I love it.  The town is virtually water locked on the Amazon river which makes for super views!

After sorting out our logistics for the river trip, we went exploring for a place to have a drink (elections are tomorrow and Peru has a stupid rule saying you can’t drink the day before an election- they hadn’t factored into account Henry was with us – he can smell alcohol from 1000kms away so we found a bottle store/grocery shop and bought some beers for the hotel- turned out to be a great night!

Next day our Amazon adventure began with a long  boat ride to our “lodge” on the banks of the amazon. Don’t misunderstand the word “lodge” as this isn’t the Kruger. My mattress was about 1cm thick and I fear my back will never be the same again but we were in the Amazon and not the Ritz – this was expected.

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We spent the next span of time exploring the river, swimming in it, fishing for Piranha and discovering interesting animals – all of which was super! One of the highlights was trekking into primary jungle the one night and camping on an observation platform in the middle of nowhere. That night we paddled out in a small dugout on a shallow stream  – was really cool despite the mozzies and humidity (felt the same as when you open a dishwasher when its just finished its cycle). The girls nearly capsized us when a small fish jumped out of the water onto Bridgets lap – I haven’t laughed that hard my entire life! In her defence – I can imagine it’s terrifying if there is something slimy swishing around you in the pitch black! Amazon was amazing but do not expect cool weather! I was forced to drink a bajillion beers just to keep cool!

Before we knew what was what, we were killing time in Sao Paulo waiting for out flight back to SA – this was a truly brilliant trip! Peru is a beautiful, diverse country with so much to see and do- I’m super chuffed I’ve seen it and will definitely be going back some day to explore more of the mountains and jungles!

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